Observation: UN women’s rights committee publishes findings on Albania, Bhutan, France, Guatemala, Jamaica, Malawi, Nicaragua, Philippines, and Uruguay

Geneva, 30 October, 2023.- The UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) today issued its findings on Albania, Bhutan, France, Guatemala, Jamaica, Malawi, Nicaragua, the Philippines, and Uruguay, after reviewing these nine States parties during its latest session.

The findings contain positive aspects of each country’s implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, as well as the Committee’s main concerns and recommendations. Some of the key issues include:

The Committee was concerned about Albanian women’s concentration in lower-paid jobs in certain industrial sectors and in the informal economy, where they are exposed to exploitation and without social security coverage, including paid and sick leave. The Committee called on Albania to enforce the principle of equal pay for work of equal value and enhance women’s access to formal employment, especially for those from disadvantaged groups. It also asked Albania to reinforce regular labour inspections and strengthen women workers’ access to confidential and independent complaint mechanisms.

The Committee noted that Albania has adopted a framework of laws to achieve substantive equality of women and men. However, it questioned the limited effectiveness of these laws. The Committee was further concerned that gender equality was not ensured for woman victims of intersectional discrimination. It called on Albania to ensure access to basic services for women who are victims of intersecting forms of discrimination.

The Committee expressed concern about the decrease in women’s representation in the National Assembly and that only one of the 20 newly elected members of the National Council is a woman. It recommended that Bhutan address all barriers to women’s equal and inclusive representation in political and public life, including by promoting equal sharing of care and domestic responsibilities between women and men and by conducting awareness-raising on women in leadership roles.

Regarding the acquisition of citizenship, the Committee said the existing Constitution and requirements particularly impact single mothers and their children when the father is not Bhutanese, or his whereabouts are unknown. It also raised concern about ethnic Nepali Bhutanese women who were forced to leave Bhutan in the early 1990s and are ineligible for citizenship without proof of legal residency. It recommended that Bhutan review its Constitution to allow all Bhutanese women to pass their nationality to their children, regardless of the other parent’s nationality or whereabouts. It also asked the State party to grant Bhutanese nationality to ethnic Nepali Bhutanese women to recognise their strong links with the State party.

Regarding the overly restrictive definition of rape, which is based on lack of consent due to violence, threat or coercion, the Committee was concerned that this limits the possibility of conviction and makes the criminal process difficult for complainants. It recommended that France amend the Penal Code to ensure that the definition of rape is based on the absence of consent, covering any non-consensual sexual act and taking into account all coercive circumstances, in line with international human rights standards.

The Committee raised questions about the insufficient government measures to encourage private investment in women’s athletics, notably in the lead-up to the 2024 Olympic Games. It recommended that France strengthen mechanisms and regulatory provisions to stimulate private investment in women’s sports skills and talents and leverage the 2024 Olympic Games to better profile women’s sports potentials and promote private sector investment in women and sports.

The Committee raised concerns about the criminalisation of abortion in Guatemala, except in cases of threats to the life of the pregnant woman, and women’s limited access to safe abortion and post-abortion services. It called on the State party to amend the Penal Code to legalise abortion and decriminalise it in all cases and ensure that women and adolescent girls have adequate access to safe abortion and post-abortion services, fully guaranteeing their reproductive rights.

Regarding some serious human rights violations committed during the internal armed conflict, the Committee highlighted its concern about the prolonged proceedings that have prevented victims from accessing the reparations ordered by the Trial Court. The Committee recommended that Guatemala implement its Dignified and Transformative Reparation Policy and enforce the reparation measures ordered by the courts, including the 16 collective reparation measures ordered in the Sepur Zarco case.

The Committee noted with concern that the prevalence of gender-based violence against women remains high in Jamaica. It asked the State party to strengthen its efforts under the National Strategic Action Plan to Eliminate Gender-Based Violence, such as promoting changes in social norms and cultural perceptions that legitimate gender-based violence socially and engaging men and boys in ending gender-based violence and discrimination against women and girls.

The Committee also raised concern about reported teacher bias and discomfort in teaching lessons on sexual and reproductive health, family planning and HIV/STI prevention, and that the school curriculum does not adequately address issues related to LBTI women. It asked Jamaica to evaluate teaching methods and address stereotypes in the Health and Family Lifestyle curriculum, especially the Sexuality and Sexual Health module, to ensure age-appropriate education on sexual and reproductive health and rights.

The Committee was alarmed by the persistence of harmful practices against women and girls in Malawi, including child and/or forced marriage, polygamy, “widow cleansing”, female genital mutilation, as well as the practice of prescribing sex with women and girls with albinism as a cure for HIV. The Committee urged the State party to enhance its efforts to combat harmful practices against women and girls and ensure that perpetrators are prosecuted and adequately punished, and that victims have access to effective remedies and adequate protection.

The Committee commended Malawi for electing the first female Speaker of Parliament in 2019 and took note of the increase in the representation of women in the National Assembly and ministerial positions. It, however, remained concerned about the persistence of patriarchal attitudes and discriminatory stereotypes hampering women’s participation in political and public life and the low representation of women in decision-making positions in the civil service. It recommended that Malawi take measures to provide campaign financing and capacity-building on political leadership skills for women candidates and adopt gender quotas for electoral lists and the executive structures of political parties.

The Committee was alarmed by the arrest and prosecution of women human rights defenders, women religious leaders, women journalists and young women activists for expressing dissenting opinions and participating in public demonstrations. It was also disturbed by reports about at least 7,000 cases of aggression against women human rights defenders, who have been considered traitors or enemies of peace. It urged Nicaragua to promptly implement all protection orders issued by the Inter-American Court on Human Rights regarding women human rights defenders and immediately release those women who are detained based on their dissenting political views.

The Committee expressed concern about the criminalisation of abortion, including therapeutic abortion, which drove women and girls to seek unsafe abortion. It also highlighted concern regarding the high number of early pregnancies, including cases of pregnant girls as young as 15 years old. It asked Nicaragua to legalise abortion, at least in cases of rape, incest, risk to the life of the pregnant woman and severe foetal impairment and decriminalise it in all other cases. It further called on the State party to ensure that women and girls have access to safe and confidential abortion and post-abortion services.

The Philippines
The Committee was concerned that a significant number of the 1.13 million women overseas Filipino workers are exploited in domestic work and prostitution, often amounting to human trafficking, and that they are primarily engaged in unskilled and low-paid jobs and are separated from their families and children for long periods of time. The Committee called on the State party to strengthen the legal protection of women overseas Filipino workers, prosecute and sentence those who exploit and abuse them, including recruiters, and raise awareness of women overseas workers about their rights.

The Committee expressed concern about the use by the State party of the Anti-Terror Act (2020) to legitimize acts against women human rights defenders, land and environment defenders, and journalists, including «red-tagging» as in the case of Nobel Prize laureate Maria Ressa, which resulted in intimidation, hate speech, threats, physical assault, harassment, arrest, and detention. The Committee asked the Philippines to ensure that women human rights defenders and journalists, including Maria Ressa, and those advocating for land rights, environmental protection, indigenous women’s rights and rural women’s rights, can exercise their rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, and association without harassment, surveillance, or undue restriction.

The Committee was concerned that only 2 of 14 Ministries are headed by women and that only 10.5% of mayors are women. It recommended that Uruguay adopt temporary special measures, including increased quotas, zipper systems for electoral lists of political parties and targeted campaign financing for women candidates, to achieve gender parity in national and local legislative bodies and governance.

The Committee noted that the 8 per cent quota established by law for the participation of persons of African descent in the public service has yet to be met and lacks a specific focus on women of African descent. The Committee recommended that the State party establish time-bound targets to accelerate the achievement of substantive equality of men and women, including women of African descent, indigenous women, rural women, and women with disabilities, in political and public life, education and employment.

*The Committee regretted that Nicaragua did not respond to communication and did not send a delegation to the public dialogue. The Committee proceeded to review Nicaragua in the absence of the delegation and issued provisional findings and recommendations that will be made final at the next session.

The above findings, officially named Concluding Observations, are now available online on the session webpage.

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